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NBA PM: Rivers Excited to Play Small Forward

Austin Rivers will spend some time at small forward for the Los Angeles Clippers this season.

Cody Taylor

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Looking at the roster for the Los Angeles Clippers, it’s clear that the small forward position is one of the weakest on the team. With players like Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan locked in as starters, four out of the five positions in the lineup are set.

The small forward spot in the lineup seemingly has no clear starter for the team. Last season, the Clippers plugged a few different players into the position out of necessity. When Griffin was in the lineup, head coach Doc Rivers went with Luc Mbah a Moute; he then used Mbah a Moute and Paul Pierce when Griffin was out the lineup.

While Pierce will certainly be in the Hall of Fame once his illustrious career ends following this season, it’s clear that he isn’t the player that he was when he played with the Boston Celtics. Mbah a Moute is a good defender, but is limited offensively – averaging a career-low 3.1 points in 75 games last season.

The other four positions on the team feature some of the best players in the league, but the three spot is still in need of help. The Clippers were limited this summer in cap space, and mainly just re-signed their pending free agents like Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers, Wesley Johnson and Mbah a Moute.

The starting small forward for this season seems to still be up in the air. Players like Pierce, Wesley Johnson and Mbah a Moute will likely all be counted on to play the position at some point this season. It remains to be seen what type of role rookie forward Brice Johnson will have given recent news that he’ll be out indefinitely with a herniated disk.

One player that the team may experiment with at the small forward position is Rivers. He and his father revealed to reporters over the weekend that he’ll see some time this season at the three. One obvious takeaway from that thought is Austin is primarily a backcourt player and is undersized to be able to guard some of the bigger threes in the league, but it’s an idea they’re going to explore.

“I didn’t initially really even know about it until they started hinting that I got to start lifting a little bit more,” Rivers said. “I was like, ‘What’s going on, man? I’ve been lifting like every day.’ They want me to start guarding threes and they mentioned the idea of me possibly coming out of the gate starting some at the three.

“The reason it’s possible is because there are not really post-up bigs anymore. Unless I’m playing LeBron [James] or [Carmelo Anthony]. Those are the only two where that would be a game where [Mbah a Moute] would have to [guard them] because they’re just too big for me to [guard] because those guys are like twice my size. Other wings don’t post up so it’s not like the 90s where they had all of these heavy-set wings where guards couldn’t really guard them.”

While size puts Rivers at a clear disadvantage against the bigger wings in the league like James, Anthony and Kawhi Leonard, the team sees his quickness as an advantage at the position. Doc told reporters that most threes have an advantage off of the dribble against defenders, but putting a player like Austin at the position gives him the benefit of taking away the dribble and forcing the player to post up. Austin pointed to players like Chandler Parsons and Andre Iguodala as threes that he can guard because they like to face up a lot and shoot three-pointers.

The idea of playing Austin at the three seems to still be fluid at the moment as the opposing matchup will determine who will start at the position. He started for the Clippers at the three last Wednesday against the Toronto Raptors. He was tasked with guarding DeMar DeRozan during the first half of that game and gave up 20 points to DeRozan on 8-of-11 shooting from the field. He joked at practice on Saturday that he felt his first time went well other than the fact that DeRozan had 20 points in the first half. He is currently listed as the probable starter at the three for tonight’s game against the Utah Jazz.

Rivers is coming off of his best season, averaging 8.9 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 67 games. One of his best performances of the season occurred during the playoffs in Game 6 against the Portland Trail Blazers after he scored 21 points, eight assists and six rebounds. He earned the respect of many as he played most of the game with four stitches above his eye after taking an elbow to the face and leaving for a brief stretch of time.

The fact that Rivers is openly embracing the idea of playing another position seems positive for the team. Rivers said that he played some three last season when the team faced Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Playing at the three now will give the team some versatility depending on certain matchups since Rivers has proven that he can play as either guard position as well.

In order to prepare Rivers for the change, he said the team is going to have him play one-on-one against Griffin in practice. While Griffin is a lot bigger and stronger than most threes, practicing with Griffin will give Rivers an idea of what he can expect when defending the position. In addition, the team will have Griffin guard Rivers in practice so he’ll be able to switch onto guards in certain situations.

It remains to be seen exactly how much time Rivers will spend at the position. As Doc mentioned, the matchups will determine where Austin will play in the lineup. Doc understands that he won’t be able to utilize Austin every night at the position, but it will give him some versatility when formulating game plans this season.

This is going to be a big season for the Clippers. Paul and Griffin have the option to become unrestricted free agents next summer and several other players like Redick, Brandon Bass, Raymond Felton and Alan Anderson will be unrestricted free agents as well.

This team has shown before that they can be one of the best teams in the Western Conference when healthy, but they’ve battled some unfortunate injuries over the years that have prevented them from playing their best basketball. This season could be make-or-break for this team and expectations will surely be very high.

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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VIDEO: Tobias Harris – 2018 NBA All-Star

New LA Clipper Tobias Harris talks about the trade from Detroit, his mindset after being traded a few times and more.

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New LA Clipper Tobias Harris talks about the trade from Detroit, his mindset after being traded a few times and more.

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Rest Assured, the 1-16 NBA Playoff Format Is Coming… Kinda

Based on Adam Silver’s comments, it’s safe to assume that the NBA will soon reformat the playoffs.

Moke Hamilton

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If there’s one thing Adam Silver has proven in his four years as the NBA’s Commissioner, it’s that he isn’t afraid to do things his way.

And if Silver has his way, the league will eventually figure out how it can implement a system that results in a more balanced playoff system. On Saturday, though, he revealed that it’s probably closer to a reality than many of us realize.

During his annual All-Star media address, Silver admitted that the league will “continue to look at” how they can reformat the playoffs to both ensure a better competitive balance throughout and pave the way for the league’s two best teams to meet up in the NBA Finals, even if both of those two teams happen to be in the same conference.

“You also would like to have a format where your two best teams are ultimately going to meet in the Finals,” the commissioner said on Saturday night.

“You could have a situation where the top two teams in the league are meeting in the conference finals or somewhere else. So we’re going to continue to look at that. It’s still my hope that we’re going to figure out ways.”

Since Silver took over the league, he’s been consistent in implementing dramatic changes to improve the overall quality of the game. Although Silver didn’t take over as the league’s commissioner until 2014, he was instrumental in getting the interested parties to buy into the notion that the “center” designation on the All-Star ballot was obsolete.

As a result, beginning with the 2013 All-Star Game, the Eastern and Western Conference teams have featured three “frontcourt” players, which essentially lumps centers in with forwards and eliminates the requirement that a center appear in the All-Star game. That wasn’t always the case.

From overhauling the league’s scheduling to reducing back-to-back games to implementing draft lottery reform to, this year, eliminating the traditional All-Star format which featured the Eastern Conference versus the Western Conference, it’s become clear that Silver simply “gets it” and isn’t afraid to make revolutionary changes if he deems them to be in the overall best interest of the league.

At this point, everyone realizes that something needs to be done about the league’s current playoff system.

Last season, for example, the Western Conference first round playoff series featured the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder squaring off against one another. Only one series—the Los Angeles Clippers versus Utah Jazz—went seven games.

Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, the first round series that were contested weren’t exactly compelling.

The Cleveland Cavaliers steamrolled the conference to the tune of a 12-1 run to their third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. It wasn’t the first time that the public questioned the wisdom behind separating the playoff brackets by conference, but the dominance of the Cavs and LeBron James specifically (who is expected to win the Eastern Conference for the eighth consecutive time this season) has caused renewed scrutiny.

The most common solution offered to this point has been to simply take the 16 best teams across the league, irrespective of conference, and conduct the playoffs as normal.

From afar, this solution seems simple enough, but the obvious concerns are twofold.

First, if the Celtics and Clippers, for example, were pitted against one another in a first round series, the travel would be considerable. Private charter flight or not, traveling is taxing, and the prospect of having to make five cross-country trips over the course of a two-week span would certainly leave the winner of such a series at a competitive disadvantage against the opponents they would face in subsequent rounds, especially if the future opponent enjoyed a playoff series that was contested within close proximity.

Atlanta to New Orleans, for example, is less than a one-hour flight.

Aside from the concerns about geographic proximity, the other obvious issue is competitive balancing of the schedule, which seems to be an easier issue to fix.

Using the Pelicans as an example, of the 82 games they play, 30 are played against the other conference—in this case, the Eastern Conference. The other 52 games would all be played within the conference. If playoff seedings were going to be done on a simple 1-16 basis, the scheduling would have to be realigned in a way to essentially pit all teams against one another evenly. It wouldn’t be fair for a team like the Celtics to be judged on the same standard as the Pelicans if the Celtics faced inferior teams more often.

On Saturday night, Silver revealed that the league’s brass has been thinking about this and is trying to find a solution, and in doing so, he may have tipped his hand.

* * * * * *

As a multinational conglomerate, the NBA values the inclusion of as many markets as possible. Wanting to improve the overall quality of the product, though, there are interests that may not align fully.

What’s obvious with this year’s All-Star game is that the NBA has found a way to balance the two.

Rather than eliminating the conference designations altogether and simply choosing the “best” 24 players to be in the All-Star game, the league still chose All-Stars based on their conference, but then distributed them within the pool to allow for better competition.

That’s exactly what Silver revealed the NBA is considering doing with the playoffs. It makes perfect sense, and it’s probably just a matter of time before it’s implemented.

A report from ESPN notes that the idea that the league is kicking around would essentially do exactly what the league did with the All-Star selections with the playoff teams: choose the best from each conference, then disburse them in a way that allows for competitive balance. 

The proposal would have the league’s teams compete as they normally do and would still feature the top eight teams from each conference getting into the playoffs.

Once the teams are qualified, however, they would be re-seeded on a 1-16 basis and crossmatched, on that basis.

It’s not perfect, but compromises never are. The travel issues would still persist, but the league would accomplish two goals: the less dominant conference wouldn’t be underrepresented and discouraged from competing, but the two best teams would still be on opposite ends of the bracket.

An NBA playoffs that featured 11 or 12 teams from the Western Conference would be a ratings nightmare for the league. Eastern Conference cities are less likely to stay up past midnight during the week to watch playoff games, and less competitive markets would frown at the prospect of having to compete against the other conference for a playoff spot. For many small market teams, the millions of dollars generated from a single playoff game often has a significant impact on the team’s operations, so there would naturally be discord.

This system would at least eliminate that contention.

On the positive side, it would allow for the Rockets and Warriors, for example, to meet in the NBA Finals. In both the NFL and MLB, geography hasn’t been a determining factor on which teams battle for the league’s championship.

Why does it have to be in the NBA?

* * * * * *

With the league having begun regular season play earlier this season, at the All-Star break, most teams have played about 57 games. A lot can change over the final 25 games of the season, but if the seeds were frozen today and the league took the top eight teams from each conference and then crossmatched them, the Los Angeles Clippers would be the team that got the short end o the stick.

Although the Clippers have the 16th best record in the league, they would be the ninth-seeded Western Conference team and would thus be eliminated from postseason contention by the Miami HEAT. The HEAT have the 17th best record in the league but are the eighth-best team in the Eastern Conference, so to preserve the conference weight, the HEAT would win out.

This is what the seedings and matchups would look like…

(1) Houston Rockets versus (16) Miami HEAT

(2) Golden State Warriors versus (15) New Orleans Pelicans

(3) Toronto Raptors versus (14) Philadelphia 76ers

(4) Boston Celtics versus (13) Portland Trail Blazers

(5) Cleveland Cavaliers versus (12) Denver Nuggets

(6) San Antonio Spurs versus (11) Oklahoma City Thunder

(7) Minnesota Timberwolves versus (10) Milwaukee Bucks

(8) Washington Wizards versus (9) Indiana Pacers

Here, the Celtics would face the nightmarish scenario of having to travel to and from Portland for their playoff series, while virtually every other series would feature much more friendly travel (especially the Spurs-Thunder and Raptors-Sixers).

The Cavs would have a very tough road to the Finals, having to beat the Nuggets, Celtics and Rockets if the seeds held. The Celtics would have a similarly tough road, as they’d have to get past the Blazers, Cavs and Rockets.

At the end of the day, the Rockets and Warriors would be aligned in such a way as to avoid one another until the championship, but each of the two would face daunting competition. The Rockets would have to go through the HEAT, Wizards and Celtics, while the Warriors would have to face the Pelicans, Timberwolves and Raptors—again, assuming the seeds held.

It would be a benefit to all observers.

One of the unintended consequences of implementing this system would be to make every single game count. If the Celtics were able to move up to the second seed, for example, their road to the Finals, in theory, could become much much easier, comparatively speaking.

The end result would be less resting of players during the course of the season and certainly less instances in which star players take the final week of the regular season off in other to be fresh for the postseason.

Everyone wins.

No, there’s no perfect solution, but just as the league has found a clever way to serve multiple interests as it relates to the All-Star game’s competitiveness, Silver has revealed that the league is at least considering following suit with the playoffs.

Best bet?

It’s only a matter of time before we see it actually see it happen.

It simply makes too much sense, and if there’s one thing the commissioner has already proven, it’s that he isn’t afraid of changing tradition.

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NBA All-Star Saturday Recap

Brian Slingluff recaps All-Star Saturday from Los Angeles.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders is here to recap an eventful All-Star Saturday that led to three first-time champs in the various skills contests. Let’s get right to it.

Taco Bell Skills Challenge

In Saturday night’s Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the “Bigs” team, boasting 3 All-Stars, set out to claim a third straight title. The competition kicked off with Joel Embiid coming from behind to best Al Horford, and sharpshooter Lauri Markkanen swishing his first 3 point attempt to eliminate Andre Drummond. On the Guard side, Buddy Hield had an early lead before losing out to Spencer Dinwiddie, and Jamal Murray upset hometown favorite Lou Williams.

In the semifinals, Markkanen was able to dispatch Joel Embiid, who struggled with the pass portion of the competition, and Dinwiddie topped Jamal Murray by making his first 3 pointer for the second consecutive round.

In the Final round, Dinwiddie finally missed a 3 pointer, but it did not matter as he finished with a wire to wire victory over Lauri Markkanen. Dinwiddie, competing in front of his friends and family, was able to end the Bigs’ two year win streak in impressive fashion.

JBL Three Point Contest

The event started off with Tobias Harris scoring a solid 18 points. Wayne Ellington was next, sporting the hot new alternate Miami Vice jersey. Ellington started off cold and heated up on his last three racks, ending up with a score of 17. Devin Booker and former three-point champion Klay Thompson tied for a round-high 19 points. Paul George, Bradley Beal, and Kyle Lowry struggled from the start and never found a rhythm, falling short of making the championship round. Defending champion Eric Gordon never got it going, and would not defend the title, scoring only 12 points.

In the Championship round, Tobias Harris was on fire through the first 3 racks, but quickly got cold, scoring 17 points. Devin Booker was next and could not miss, scoring 28 points, leaving Klay Thompson a high number to match. Thompson fell just 3 points short, and Devin Booker was crowned the 2018 JBL Three Point Champion.

Verizon Slam Dunk Contest

The final and most anticipated event of the night started with Donovan Mitchell bringing out a second hoop, bouncing it off the second backboard and finishing with an impressive windmill dunk, scoring a 48. Victor Oladipo followed with a difficult look-away alley oop dunk attempt that he was unable to complete, totaling 31 points from the judges. Dennis Smith Jr. had a nice reverse double pump that got 39 points and Larry Nance Jr., in a throwback Phoenix jersey, payed homage to his father’s cradle dunk, nailing it almost exactly for a score of 44 points.

Oladipo started the next round of dunks by borrowing Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther mask, and scoring 40 points with a tomahawk windmill dunk. Smith Jr. hit a seemingly impossible reverse 360, through the legs, switching hands dunk for a perfect score of 50. Nance Jr. pulled off a Vince Carter level windmill, nearly missing a perfect score. Mitchell jumped over comedian Kevin Hart to advance to the finals against Larry Nance Jr.

In the Finals, Nance started things off with a windmill alley-oop with some help from Larry Nance Sr., garnering a score of 46. Mitchell completed the difficult one handed alley-oop he had attempted in the previous round, scoring a perfect 50. Nance Jr. answered with an incredible double pass off the backboard dunk, scoring yet another 50 points.  Mitchell ended the contest with a Vince Carter tribute dunk, coming out on top by just two points. It capped off an exciting Saturday night, setting things up for the main event on Sunday, Team LeBron versus Team Stephen.

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